Monday, May 29, 2017

Genius Hour Update #2

This week, I distilled the wintergreen oil. Or at least, I put the wintergreen leaves I had collected with water in the distiller over the hotplate and collected everything that came out of it. There was quite a bit of liquid, and from the looks of it, it was a mixture of at least two different substances. After it had sat overnight, the substances had roughly separated, with a layer of whitish liquid on the bottom and a  lot more clear liquid on the top. I assumed the top layer was water; after some research, I discovered that wintergreen oil is denser than water, so this seemed correct.

To further purify the oil, I next boiled off some of the water. I didn't want to boil too much of it though, and risk losing any oil I had been able to collect. It is unlikely that I will try to purify it any further. Not only would it be very difficult to do so, but I would probably have to repeat the whole process again with more leaves to get enough oil for my purposes, and there is not much time left in the school year. However, I believe it is alright if the wintergreen oil is not pure. 

Next, I plan on preparing two or three Petri dishes of bacteria. Over the next few days, I want to apply the oil I distilled to one dish and leave the other as a control, and monitor the growth of the bacteria to see if the oil is actually toxic. If I can get a hold of some pure methyl salicylate, which is the primary chemical in wintergreen oil, then I will apply that to the third dish as another point of comparison. I am very interested to see the results of all this, and I am excited to share them with the class.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Genius Hour Update #1

Wintergreen: more than just those red berries you see lining the trails when you go hiking!

At least, that was how I had always known wintergreen. That, and as a flavor of gum that I much preferred over spearmint. I got the idea to use them for my Genius Hour after hearing about a former student who distilled oil from pine needles. The next time I went on a hike (I like to hike, ok) I saw the familiar red berries and connected the ideas together: what if I distilled the oil from wintergreen leaves?

This past week, I researched wintergreen leaves, their properties, their uses, and methods for distilling oil. I found out that pure wintergreen oil is quite toxic--just a few teaspoons ingested can kill an adult!--so my original idea of using the oil to flavor my own homemade gum was nixed. I didn't wan't to risk poisoning anyone, even though the oil can be diluted to make it safe. Instead, I plan to take advantage of the oil's toxic property to combat bacteria. Online sources I found claimed that the oil is an antiseptic, so it would be interesting to see if directly applying it to bacteria in a Petri dish kills the bacteria, and if so, how effectively.

I need to do a little more research, especially into the process of using a distiller. Over the weekend I hope to collect the leaves so that by Monday I can start getting some oil!